7:30. a.m. Paris. Right now a moveable disaster. Saturday dawn’s here but no noise outside, no one visible on the street under my window. As a writer I should have words. But none have come yet. Made coffee. Which brought to mind those pages from Mahmood Darwish’s “Memory of Forgetfulness,” where he describes making coffee as he wakes up in Beirut after a night of bombings. The coffee is growing cold as I hesitate, groping for words. I’ll drink the coffee now. Talk/write later.
9:30 a.m. Walked out & Paris streets are beginning to show signs of life, at least in my quarter, Saint Germain / Saint Sulpice. Parents with baby strollers, housewives with baguettes, a few tourists. But my healthfood store remains closed. Maybe this afternoon. I bought today’s “Libération” at the news stand. Strange compulsion to see in print what you saw on TV all night. Need for archive, maybe. The newsstand on Place St Sulpice: the window behind which the lady who takes you money sits is framed by books. The first my eyes fell on was Régis Debray’s “Eloge des frontières /In Praise of Borders” — one of the many books by aging leftists-turned-reactionaries. Of course during the night President Hollande called for closing the borders. As if closing the borders could keep evil out or evil foreigners from escaping. As if evil was foreign, was always the other. Borders are what the trouble is (see my piece in the current Poetry Project Newsletter).
With Libé in hand I couldn’t resist that most French of morning transactions: I walked into the Café de la Mairie, went up to the bar & ordered a café allongé and a croissant (first croisant in ages, as I don’t eat those things made of white flour anymore, though this morning a symbolic gesture was in order). The café was half-full, people reading the morning paper, but also books, correcting proofs or something, the usual daily traffic.It’s colder today than it has been this warm November & so nobody was sitting outside. I nibbled at the croissant, left most on the counter, downed the coffee, had a quick, smilingly reassuring exchange with the barman and my usual backroom waiter, wished everyone a “bonne journée,” and came home.
11:00 Accumulating face-book messages: “be safe. our prayers are with you.” Well-meant unthinking: the killers muttered prayers as they pulled the trigger. Prayers & monotheisms are the roots of this evil. Prayer slashes thought’s throat. & what we need right now is new & better thinking.
2:30 p.m. Lunch time needed to be acknowledged. I went back to the Café de la Mairie, ordered my usual noon-time omelet, asking if they had the “pleurotes”which they had had earlier in the week. Pleurotes are oyster mushrooms, though my request rhymed more with the homophone French meaning “pleurs” tears, cries, weeping. The waiter told me, no there were no pleurotes today but he could offer an omelet with “trompettes des morts, “ literally “trumpets of the dead” — an edible mushroom we call “horn of plenty,” also known as the black chanterelle, or black trumpet. I looked at the waiter with a bit of surprise & grimaced somewhat sarcastically something like, “fits the day, no?” He couldn’t or didn’t want to pick up on the reference. I decided that, yes, this was the day for such an omelet & told him to bring it on.
11 p.m. Time to turn the newsmedia off — the constant repetition of the same news bits is wearing out my patience. As I try to fall asleep I realize how odd my first FB message was: my immediate association of the Paris disaster went via Darwish’s memoir to similar tragic events in Beirut in the 80s, i.e. thirty years ago. And didn’t instantly link up to the blast in that same city 24 hours earlier, i.e. on Thursday night, that killed over forty people on a busy shopping street. Maybe that was because I was looking for words (that hadn’t come yet) to speak to the Paris disaster, and words are found in books, and so naturally — or culturally? — my mind went to the best words I knew that had been written cocnerning a similar tragedy.
11/15 9 a.m. Just a quick listen to a news update upon waking up. Will try to keep the TV (& even the radio) down to a minimum today. Make coffee again, sip it while gathering in mind the expanding ring of places Paris has now joined: Beirut, Baghdad, Cairo, Garissa (Kenya), Tunis, Ankara, Madrid. Not to speak of the heart of the Mashreq, Iraq & Syria.
The night had been eerily silent: below my window, the “rue de la soif” as it is known, is on weekends filled with revelers and since the prohibition to smoke, there are constantly 100 or more smokers on the street screaming, talking, shouting, singing, smoking all night long. This past two nights, nothing, no noise, no revelers. When I looked down on the strret this morning I saw the sophisticated street-cleaning machina parked at one end, ready to do its job. A desultory one this morning: where usually thousands of cigarette butts make a raggedly carpet on the blacktop for any number of broken glasses and empty cans, there was nothing for the machine to pick up. As if the night had not happened.
Unable as yet to turn back to the reading I was doing before the event, I start making notes. The impulse is to turn the TV on. Maybe something else has happened? Maybe they have found out something important? — On Sunday morning in the 60 minutes since I listened to the news? Who am I kidding. I resist and turn to some much needed music: Hans Werner Henze’s Winter Music, his sonatas on Shakespearean characters, with David Tanenbaum on guitar.
An hour later I went out for a much needed morning walk after too many hours cooped up in the flat, and an even more abstruse not to say absurd scene greeted me: a moveable crane stood in the middle of the street with a solitary worker on top of the laddered arm fixing christmas street-lights on the facades of the houses on both sides of the street. The horizontal strip was fixed but the various vertical lines with their small lights were all still dangling in messy bundles as if carelessly thrown over the horizontal holds. As if the worker or the city didn’t have his or its heart in next month’s celebration as yet — though, obviously, not even 128 deaths can stop the commercial capitalist vulture-machine known as christmas.
The walk was bracing. Only once did I startle up, on my “qui-vive” as one is after events like those of the 13th, no matter how blasé one thinks one is or can act. That happened as I saw a crowd gathered on the Boulevard Saint Germain near its intersection with the rue des Saint Pères, and two vehicles that looked like TV trucks next to them. Approaching, I realized that the Ukrainian church stood on the right and that the people were the attendees of Sunday morning mass. I wound my way through them, crossed the rue des Saint-Pères, passed the café which I can never pass without thinking of the two poet friends I had a long afternoon conversation with on that terrasse in 1985 — both gone now, namely Ted Joans and Joyce Mansour. I hang a left, cross the street and start on the way back — my mind suddenly turning toward poetry again, or if not poetry, then toward words, and the way they line themselves up, the work that takes.